Following an action packed first week of The Ultimate Fighter, the tournament continues in week two as Team Benavidez tries to get on the board after dropping the first two fights to Team Cejudo.
The No. 1 seed and top pick for Team Cejudo, Alexandre Pantoja, had an absolute battle with No. 16 seed Brandon Moreno, but the RFA flyweight champion managed to get the job done with a second round choke to move on to the next round. Meanwhile, No. 9 seed Kai Kara France started off his run this season with a phenomenal knockout over Alaska Fighting Championship king Terrence Mitchell in under a minute as he punched his ticket to the next round as well.
Because the tournament is moving directly down one side of the bracket before moving to the other side, the next fight up will be Team Benavidez No. 5 seed Hiromasa Ogikubo against the No. 12 seed from Team Cejudo, Nkazimulo Zulu.
Before the fight gets underway this week, the competitors are starting to settle into their new digs, and while this season is filled to the brim with champions and veteran athletes, that doesn't mean living together will be any easier. Just like season four, when veteran fighters with past UFC experience were brought together to compete for a similar trophy — a guaranteed title shot — there were still altercations inside the house. This week will show exactly how these 16 flyweights are already getting on each other's nerves as the clash of cultures begins just a few days into the competition.
There's also a bit of a language barrier for some of the fighters in the house this season after UFC matchmakers literally scoured the Earth to find the best 125-pounders on the planet. That means some of the fighters came from as far as Brazil or even Japan, as in the case of No. 5 seed Hiromasa Ogikubo.
Ogikubo already experienced the hardships of not speaking the same language as his housemates a week ago when he was trying to find a bed to sleep in while moving into the house, and that struggle will continue this week as he begins to prepare for his upcoming fight with Zulu. Ogikubo is a veteran fighter with a 15-3 record, so he's got plenty of experience, but not being able to communicate properly with head coach Joseph Benavidez could put him at a disadvantage going into his fight this week.
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On paper, Ogikubo is a dangerous prospect and a legitimate threat to win the entire tournament if he can ply his craft against the various opponents he'll face this season. Ogikubo is best known as a submission specialist with slick jiu-jitsu on the ground, both on top and when working his guard game from the bottom. Ogikubo first started training martial arts when he was five years old thanks to his father, who was a karate instructor. Ogikubo has grown up with martial arts in his blood and, as he got older, he discovered mixed martial arts in high school while watching PRIDE Fighting Championships on TV.
Ogikubo has spent almost his entire career fighting in Shooto in Japan, which is the oldest and one of the most well respected organizations in the world. He comes to The Ultimate Fighter as the Shooto Japan flyweight champion after winning his last five fights in a row, and the last loss he suffered was in 2014 to former flyweight title contender Kyoji Horiguchi, so he's faced some tough competition in his day. While the language barrier may hinder him from communicating with Benavidez leading up to the fight this week, Ogikubo has enough knowledge locked away that he should be able to handle business inside the Octagon.
As for his opponent, Nkazimulo Zulu, he joins the show fighting out of South Africa with a lot less experience than Ogikubo, but a very dangerous skill set that could give the Japanese flyweight some trouble. Zulu is 7-2 as a professional with two consecutive wins, including a vicious knockout in his last fight, as he joins the show as the flyweight champion from EFC Africa. Zulu is best known as a nasty Muay Thai striker with good kicks and long range on the feet.
When he's not fighting, Zulu is an auto mechanic at home in South Africa because to this point in his career he's been unable to sustain a career as a full-time fighter, so this opportunity means more to him than just a shot at champion Demetrious Johnson. A win on The Ultimate Fighter could change Zulu's entire life and allow him to train and prepare for fights full-time, so he's definitely got a lot riding on this first round matchup with Ogikubo.
As far as the matchup goes, this fight really does pit striker against grappler, although Ogikubo comes from a karate background, so he's not a cakewalk on the feet, but that's probably not where he'll want to face Zulu. The South African might be one of the most dangerous strikers in the competition, with big time knockout power in his hands and feet but his ground game is definitely lacking compared to some of the better wrestlers or jiu-jitsu practitioners in the competition. While Ogikubo can survive on the feet, Zulu probably wants nothing to do with his opponent's ground game.
In addition to the fight this week, we will also see the two coaches finally start sniping at each other after only two episodes. Benavidez has held a grudge against Cejudo ever since the two of them were rumored to fight not that long ago. With that fight not happening, Cejudo ended up getting a title shot instead, but Benavidez has been targeting him for a throwdown ever since they nearly crossed paths the first time. Add to that, both Benavidez and Cejudo have to look at their fight on Dec. 3 as a chance to get back in line for another shot at the flyweight title, so this competition will heat up in the tournament for everyone, as well as the coaches, because everybody on this show is gunning for Demetrious Johnson's belt.
Don't miss a minute of the friction and the next showdown in the flyweight tournament when The Ultimate Fighter returns tonight at 10pm ET on FS1.